Prior to departing on my cycle-tour of Scotland when I would be cycling each day and camping each night, I decided to buy a new tent; my previous 2-person tent weighed 3KG and I wanted something lighter and more compact, and and not expensive.
The Highlander Blackthorn 1 is what I chose and I purchased it brand new via Ebay for £32.95 – a similar price to my previous tent which had served me well. The kit weighs 1.5KG and fits more compactly on my rear pannier rack.
Test assembly at home…
Upon arrival I proceeded to do a test assembly in my living room, basically to ensure all was present and correct and to learn how to pitch it (you should always do this). The instructions are attached to the tent’s bag and easy to follow, but on the first attempt the shorter of the two sets of poles snapped.
As I inserted it into the eye-hole on one side and put it under pressure to bend it into the eye-hole on the other side I heard it splintering and crack. I eased off and felt along the pole (don’t do this!) I got fibreglass splinters in my fingers. Perhaps the pole was damaged to begin with. It was cracked to about half-way along the length on one of the segments of pole, but not snapped completely.
I e-mailed the seller, along with a photograph and they agreed to send me a set of replacement poles.
My departure date arrived quicker than the replacement set of poles so I set to repairing the poles discovering that wrapping strong tape around the pole was sufficient.
I discovered that one of the top two segments of pole was an inch longer than the other so I hacksawed off the extra inch, determining that doing so would ease the strain on the pole when bending it into the eye-lets; both sets of poles have to bend quite a lot for what are fairly rigged poles that are only 6mm in diameter. (I did try and search for replacement poles myself but 6mm ones are rare and each set has two angle pieces).
Using the tent in the wild…
After cycling 50 miles in the rain on my first day I pitched my tent and crawled in to sleep.
While the diagram above indicates a sleeping area length of 245cm, due to the sloping sides I found the back of the tent was against my head and my feet against the other end when laid out on my back; I’m close to 5’9″ (175cm) and don’t consider myself particularly tall. There was just enough space at my side for my kit bag; something I was prepared for since I had the luxury of space in my old two-person tent for all my four panniers. [Don’t expect to be able to sit up inside this tent either!]
Getting into the Highlander Blackthorn 1 requires you to be pretty agile too, something I thought I was; I found the best way was to sit into the opening, bend my head down to my chin met with my chest and ducked in, before slipping my footwear off and swinging my feet in. Sitting up in the tent was impossible; there’s simply not enough height.
The next day I had a pain in my right chest; I figured I had pulled some chest muscles from cycling with a heavily-loaded bike but as the pain persisted throughout my 2-and-a-half-week tour, although it subsided gradually, it seemed to me that crawling in and out of such a small tent was what caused my injury.
Some nights I was pitching at camp sites, and others I was ‘wild camping’. With the latter, I found myself sometimes pitching in a very small space, on uneven ground, or on a slope. Being small (on camp sites mine was always the smallest), this tent is pretty good for pitching in a small space and for being able to pitch out of sight due to its lack of height. Pitching on uneven ground or on a slope made me extra careful/concerned about the fragile poles though, as such pitching seemed to put extra strain on them, but once pitched all was well.
One night I pitched late and it was relatively dark; having already had a couple of weeks practice of pitching each day, I pitched it neatly with ease.
Packing the tent was pretty straightforward too; everything fitting neatly back into the bag (the instructions include a folding diagram). I found that rolling the top-sheet more long and thin worked best. I then laid the each bag of poles either side and wrapped the whole lot up in the ground sheet part, to keep them as protected as possible. I then stuffed the bag of pegs down the side. Only once I failed to fit everything back in the bag… but that’s because I’d forgotten to remove my camping mat!
You need to be short and agile to use this tent!
A week into my tour, after carefully pitching my tent each evening, taking extra care with each tent pole to ensure each segment was fully inserted into the metal joiner and the top sections were evenly in the tent material, the main/longer tent pole decided to snap, the same way the first pole had; this may have been karma because I’d arrived late at the camp site after the reception had closed, and ‘intending’ to pay the next morning, I would myself awake, packed, and leaving before the reception had opened, so I left without being able to pay!
Luckily I had an extra piece of tape to peel off the repair I had made on the other pole, so I used that to repair this one; lasting me a few more days before I found somewhere to sell me a roll of electrical insulation tape (I advise keeping a roll of this with you to assist you with such tent pole breakages).
My tent survived the rest of my trip, although I’d only experienced a couple of nights of rain, and no wind.
Waiting for me upon my return was the replacement set of poles. I was eager to compare them with the originals.
I discovered that the angled metal pieces were bent to a tighter angle for the replacement shorter pole, meaning the pole wont have to bend as much to be inserted into the eyelets (meaning less chance of breakage) – they’d obviously used the wrong angled ones for my original set, although the longer pole was identical.
The Highlander Blackthorn 1 is a lightweight one-person tent, but you really need to be a small and agile person to consider it (under 5’9″ / 175cm tall).
The poles measure only 6mm in diameter and due to the design have to be bent into the eyelets, which unless you are very careful WILL snap the poles – ensure each segment is fully inserted into the metal sleeve. [After finally using the replacement poles, these have fared much better making me conclude the original set were already damaged when I received them. For safety though I have wrapped tape around the poles to add strength and also keep things together should these also fracture].
Check the angle of the angled sections of the two sets of poles; both of mine were 130 degrees, but the replacement set of shorter poles were 140 degrees, as I think the originals should have been (I don’t think bending them is an option). The inch I cut off helped me but the lengths turned of each segment turned out to be correct, it was just the angled pieces were the wrong ones.
I didn’t experience any windy conditions to pitch this tent in but providing you pitch with the toe/smaller end pointing into the wind, as per the included assembly diagram, and the wind-direction doesn’t change in the night (something that isn’t unheard of!), you may be safe, but again, the poles are fragile and I suspect that any strong gusts, particularly from the side, could fracture a pole or two.
I advise keeping a roll of electrical tape with you to aid repairs, but if you completely snap a pole then you’ll need more than this [on a later trip I had to splint the poles].
Having now been away cycle touring for over two weeks I doubt I would notice the difference in weight between my two tents, but I still prefer the compactness of the one-person tent, and I liked how I could pitch it discreetly and within such a small space; something my two-person tent wouldn’t have afforded me.
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[Update] Even more recently I have been camping in this tent in my garden, pitching and unpitching it each day; you can watch videos of this ‘Lockdown Adventure’ here: